Urban planning

New strategy needed on public fill

Construction waste is unavoidable but sending it to the mainland is fast becoming unfeasible. It is time the government worked with the industry to devise a better management strategy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2018, 8:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2018, 11:32pm

To say that Hong Kong’s construction industry is the world’s most vibrant is not an overstatement. But we are also one of the world’s most wasteful societies. The impact of construction waste produced by the city is enormous, as reported in this newspaper recently. Over the past decade, a staggering HK$7.6 billion has been spent in disposing of such waste that could have been reused for reclamation and building projects.

That the issue has not been widely discussed in society does not mean it is unimportant. As we do not often come across construction waste in our daily life, we tend to think that the problem does not exist or has been taken care of. But the truth is that we are incurring massive costs by sending the waste across the border for reclamation instead of putting it to good use ourselves.

Last year, more than 13 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste, known as public fill, was shipped to Taishan in Guangdong province, up almost 40 per cent from the 9.8 million tonnes in 2013. The volume is nearly four times of our total municipal solid waste in 2016. Some 171 million tonnes of such waste has been generated between 2007 and 2016.

Billions spent sending used building materials to mainland

It would have been more cost efficient had the waste been reused locally. Arguably, the city’s reluctance in the past to go for massive reclamation outside Victoria Harbour means the material could not have been fully reused anyway. The construction industry is also said to be unwilling to use recycled materials because it requires more testing and approval by quality control consultants.

Justified or not, the mainland has been serving as the city’s dumping ground for many years. Similar to our efforts in tackling paper and plastic waste, our recycling efforts are little more than shipping what we do not want across the border for disposal. It may not appear to be that big a problem as long as there is a way out for such materials. But the market is shrinking as the country tightens the inflow of recyclables. A new approach is called for.

Our insatiable appetite for development makes construction waste unavoidable. It is time the government worked with the industry to devise a better management strategy.